The outcomes of Sunday’s games leave us with a pair of fantastic matchups for Tuesday in both the winner's and loser’s brackets.
There are some things that each team needs to focus on in its second-round game to avoid dropping a game at the College World Series and potentially getting sent home—in the case of LSU and UNC. They may seem like obvious keys to victory, but they’re essential if the team wants to stay alive.
UCLA and N.C. State are both in the driver’s seat, as a loss wouldn’t be the end of the road for them. A win, however, would give either team a major advantage going forward into the bracket final. LSU and UNC, on the other hand, will be fighting for their College World Series lives in the afternoon game.
Below is a brief preview of each of Tuesday’s games, noting what went right or wrong for each team in the opener and what each team must do well in order to come away with a win in Omaha.
Winner’s Bracket Game: UCLA vs. NC State
Game Information: Tuesday, June 18 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
UCLA Key to Victory: Strong Pitching
Adam Plutko couldn’t have been better for UCLA in the Bruins’ opener against LSU, throwing seven strong innings while allowing just one run. The Bruins were lucky to get a pair of unearned runs off of Aaron Nola, but Plutko’s ability to shut down the Tigers offense was the primary reason why UCLA came out on top.
The Bruins will now likely look to Nick Vander Tuig to send UCLA to the bracket final. Vander Tuig arguably has the best command on the staff, walking just 17 batters in 114 innings.
If he can hand the ball to the bullpen without giving up many runs, UCLA should be in good shape—even though David Berg was shaky against LSU in the ninth.
NC State Key to Victory: Will Offense Stay Hot?
One of the big reasons why the Wolfpack were successful in the opener was that they jumped on UNC ace Kent Emanuel early and knocked him out of the game before the end of the third inning. It was the bottom half of the lineup that did most of the damage, as the six-through-nine hitters went 7-for-16 with four runs.
But will N.C. State be able to replicate its success against UNC when it takes on UCLA? N.C. State’s lineup features just three players hitting at least .300 and just two batters who have more than five home runs.
The Wolfpack did well against UNC’s ace, but doing it again definitely won’t be easy. Another eight-run outburst seems unlikely.
Prediction: UCLA 5, NC State 3
Loser’s Bracket Game: UNC vs. LSU
Game Information: Tuesday, June 18 at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
UNC Key to Victory: Hitting Early and Often
UNC lost its opener because it failed to put many men on base. The Tar Heels had just five hits and a pair of walks against N.C. State, and if batters don’t get on base, they probably won’t be scoring many runs. UNC averaged more than eight runs per game but managed to sneak just one across the plate on Sunday.
If UNC doesn’t get a few early hits to wake up the rest of the bats in the lineup, the Tar Heels will be heading home.
The Tigers have a fantastic pitching staff that’s capable of shutting them out. Gaining momentum in the first few innings should bode well for the Tar Heels, but scoring against LSU's arms certainly won’t be easy.
LSU Key to Victory: Playing Strong Defense
The Tigers could’ve come away with a victory—or at least extended the game—if it weren’t for some poor defense plays against UCLA. UCLA scored in the sixth after an errant throw from Ty Ross and then scored another unearned run in the eighth after a fielding error by Alex Bregman. Those two runs would be the difference in the game.
UNC is the top team in the nation and will be attempting to put as many runs on the board as possible after a one-run performance against N.C. State.
LSU should be able to pitch well enough to win the game, but if the defense lets the staff down again, the Tigers could be ousted from Omaha in just two games.
Prediction: LSU 4, UNC 2